Stop Using Baking Soda To Get Rid Of Pesky Chocolate Stains & Do This Instead

Search for any laundry stain removal advice, and you will invariably see one ingredient come up time after time: baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate. This pantry staple is hailed for its endless versatility in baking soda laundry hacks. So it makes sense that when a melty chocolate bar escapes from its wrapper, or a bit of chocolate ice cream falls from its cone and onto your shirt, you may instinctively reach for baking soda. We asked Zachary Pozniak of The Clean Club, an online resource offering comprehensive laundry guides, and co-owner of Jeeves, a premier New York-based dry cleaner, to get his advice on whether baking soda is the right cleaning opponent for chocolate. 

To put it simply, Pozniak does not recommend using baking soda on chocolate stains, explaining in his exclusive interview with House Digest that "baking soda is most effective at removing particulate stains (dirt, mud, clay) along with odors as it breaks up metallic bonds." These aren't characteristics of chocolate stains. "Chocolate stains are composed of fats, tannins, and protein," he said, so you need a cleaning reaction to remove them completely. Basically, the abrasive grit of baking soda is great for regular old dirt and neutralizing foul odors, but not the complex chemical composition of chocolate. 

The chemical breakdown on chocolate

To understand what it takes to break down chocolate stains, it's important to know what they're actually made of. Pozniak said exclusively to House Digest, "Chocolate stains, specifically chocolate milk and chocolate ice cream, are difficult because they are combination stains." That means that you're dealing with fats, proteins, and tannins in one chocolate stain — not just one or the other. To tackle these complex spots, he advises treating chocolate stains with a one-two punch of enzyme-based cleaner and oxygenated bleach. How does an enzyme-based cleaner differ from a standard all-purpose cleaner or laundry detergent? Enzymes are little proteins that accelerate the breakdown of other compounds, like the ones found in chocolate. With the help of the enzymatic cleaner, the physical residue left behind by the chocolate can be broken down and removed. 

Oxygenated bleach, also known as color-safe bleach, opts for sodium percarbonate, which is a mix of hydrogen peroxide and sodium carbonate (soda ash). This chemical cocktail is a gentle but effective alternative to chlorine bleach. Oxygenated bleach is ideal if there's any discoloration remaining even after being pre-treated and washed. Here's how to use these ingredients to banish chocolate stains from your clothes. 

How to treat chocolate stains

Pozniak's chocolate stain removal strategy starts before you put your clothes is in the washing machine. "Pretreat with an enzymatic stain remover, work it in with a soft brush, let it sit for an hour, wash as recommended by the care label, and inspect before tumble drying," says Pozniak in an exclusive interview with House Digest. The enzymatic cleaner can break down the proteins of the chocolate, but only if given adequate time to work before being washed away. Follow our guide to reading laundry care labels so you don't make any laundry faux pas. 

After the wash cycle is complete, Pozniak advises to check the article one last time before drying, because drying an article of clothing when the stain hasn't fully lifted can further set it into the fibers of the fabric. If the stain did not come out, he recommends soaking the clothing item in hot water and powdered oxygen bleach overnight, or spray with hydrogen peroxide to take care of any remaining discoloration. Then allow it to air dry indoors only and skip hanging it outside on the clothing line, because he warns that the sun's UV rays can turn the stained area yellow — and then you'll have another stain to deal with!